How To Do Everything Right And Still Be A Complete And Utter Failure (Or Why You Should Always Tell People You Probably Suck)

[One of the blogs I read regularly is Fraser Kelton's Disruptive Thoughts. I convinced him to write a special post for the readers of this blog. What he has written was really beyond my expectations šŸ™‚ Enjoy it!]


We’re increasingly becoming a society driven by expectations – our level of enjoyment has increasingly less to do with the overall experience and increasingly more to do with the fulfillment of our expectations.

Let me explain.

I dine out a lot (guiltily, I can go months without cooking a meal) and a major factor in my enjoyment of the meal has to do with how the restaurant handles my wait time expectation.

I’m happier when they tell me the wait is 40 and they seat me in 30 than when they tell me it’s 10 and they seat me in 20.

How they handle my expectation has a real impact on how much I enjoy my meal.

What does my bizarre eating habit have to do with new media?


Understanding the changing role of expectations is crucial to successfully commercialize new media.

A few failings: i. Web 2.0 Many have discussed the problems with Ning: It didn’t down-geek to become accessible by David’s grandmother – the service was too complicated for anyone but geeks to use. That was only part of the problem.

Expectations were so astronomically high that when the service launced nobody's [note: those last two links are fantastic back to back reads] could have been fullfilled.

The result?

 Expectation-pop. [it does appear that they're working hard to set proper expectations!!]

A few failings: ii. Music The Arctic Monkeys exploded in the UK. But they haven't been having tremendous success in the States. I love the band. The album is my favourite of 2006. I have no problem understanding why they are so popular in the UK.

I can also (begin to) understand why they haven't had a similar explosion in the US.

The band was introduced to the UK through the sharing of a few demos on the internet. The audience created their own expectation: from nothing; to rabid; to full boil.

Compare that to how the band was introduced to the US:

Expectations in the US were immediately a full boil. What happens? Expectation-pop.

Build Unmanaged Buzz & Die.

Some will say that expectations only matter in the short-term – that eventually the restaurant with the better food will win my heart; that web services of value will grow their user base; that fans of good music will return to good music.

The problem is that, while in our always-on world it's easy to get a first look, it's hard to change a first impression.

As our attention becomes increasingly scarce, the amount of time given to a first look sharply decreases. And when our first looks are given less time our first impressions are increasingly shaped by, yep, expectations.

Here's the problem: While traditional marketing calls for building as much buzz as possible when commercializing a product, unmanaged buzz creates unreasonable expectations.

Unreasonable expectations are such because they can never be met. And unmet expectations generate an expectation-pop.

You've done everything right, and the result is a long-term wrong.

New media marketing is about managing expectations and this becomes increasingly true as our attention becomes increasingly scarce.

Expectation is the root of all heartache. – William Shakespeare

Explore posts in the same categories: advertising, blogger, Blogroll, Fraser Kelton, hype, marketing, music, new media, research, smart, technology, writers

17 Comments on “How To Do Everything Right And Still Be A Complete And Utter Failure (Or Why You Should Always Tell People You Probably Suck)”

  1. TerryC Says:

    The expectation trap is a real one. Nice analysis. I’ll be checking out the Fraser site. Thanks Char!

  2. Ankit M Says:

    Interesting article, and good examples provided. I agree unmanaged buzz or hype do you more harm than good and first impression is very important. But that’s not the end of story. Lets analyze the Ning example once more. Ning had promised to help the non geeks get all the sleek looking tools easy to understand and build. They launched with a great hype, but a different product actually. The tools to build mashups by Ning seems only good to a veteran geek, and worse even if you learn the tough language you can`t host it on your web site. The Geek can`t control his own stuff. That’s suicidal.

    My point is, a good product, needs time to evolve. DMOZ which became Internet`s biggest directory failed to meet the execrations at its launch and created bad first impressions. But it was a good product and finally succeeded.

  3. Anthony Says:

    The Arctic Monkeys example is a good one but interesting. In Australia we where sold the exact same story the US was yet we (Yes, I have authority to speak collectively for the whole country) love the band. Straight to #1. Upcoming concerts sold out. But right around the time of SXSW we heard all these mumblings about how the USA didn’t like them. It was like the band had a target on their chests waiting to be shot down as soon as they got off the plane. Different audinences, different expectations. Australia, 20 million people. USA, 300 million people. How do you deal with it when the internet makes everyone one audience even though culturally we are many?

    Ankit M, DMOZ a success? In what internet do you exist? They had the user base to be anything and everything. First to the market with open source information yet without the trust to make it truly open source. DMOZ is and has been drowning for years under a long outdated hierarchical “management” that has no vision . The fact that they are not the hub of or at least the birthplace of everything open source is one of the internet communities great failures.

  4. chartreuse Says:

    The USA is the land of the blockbuster. For some reason, some folks feel that you are not really a success until you make it here in the states. Of course that’s just a perception thing…

    DMOZ? No comment.

  5. Ankit M Says:

    With new form of syndication services freely avilable on the market and blogs running down conventional websites, I agree DMOZ don`t offer much to people now. But at one point of time we used to search DMOZ to find good sites…
    Anyways thats an old story now. Even if DMOZ is not a failure, its no more useful. Since today we serach for news and posts more than websites.

  6. Fraser Says:

    Hi Guys,

    Was tied up in a meeting all day and am just getting in.

    Ankit and Anthony – nice comments.

    Ankit, I don’t claim that expectations are the entire piece of the puzzle. Of course usability, benefit, etc. are all still important. As our attention gets more scarce we’re going to rely increasingly on expectations and everyone needs to pay attention to this because the punishment (if you don’t ) is the opposite of what you want.

    Anthony, thanks for the info about the Arctic Monkeys in Australia. I don’t have a nice explanation for that, but I’m definitely going to give it some thought.

  7. Fraser Says:

    Char, thanks for the opportunity to post here. It was a lot of fun writing it.

    and fyi for those who may wonder – that isn’t a picture of me.

  8. […] How To Do Everything Right And Still Be A Complete And Utter Failure (Or Why You Should Always Tell People You Probably Suck) […]

  9. chartreuse Says:

    That pick was suppose to represent someone expecting something. Jeez. I suck. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding.

  10. Fraser Says:

    I had to say something because I kept feeling bad having to let down all your female readers who wrote me emails along the lines of “you look sooo good in that jacket”.

  11. […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your ownsite. […]

  12. […] A while ago I wrote a post for Chartreuse and then offered to guest post for others. Matt, from Sharkride was the first to respond and requested a post on innovation. After a hectic few weeks I finally got around to collecting enough thoughts to write the post. Again, the same rule applied – I wrote and Matt titled. I think he picked an accurate one […]

  13. […] How To Do Everything Right And Still Be A Complete And Utter Failure […]

  14. […] building unfulfillable expectations as stealth start-up 24 Hour Laundry, Ning finally launches as a site that allows users to […]

  15. Sean Says:

    Well, I think of 3-M and they never toot their horn. They just make good stuff.

    If it wasn’t for failure inflation would go through the roof.

  16. Failure is easy, which is what I love about it

  17. DMOZ is pretty obselete, just a relic now really.

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